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Dutch Courage
by James Dunnigan
November 6, 2010

A new book ("SAS Sniper") by an Australian special operations soldier describes a battle in Afghanistan during which two Dutch AH-64 gunships refused to come to the aid of Australian, American and Afghan troops caught in an ambush. The event took place in September, 2008, in Oruzgan province (southern Afghanistan). Some 2,000 Dutch troops have been in the area for years, and were criticized for not doing anything to crack down on the local drug gangs.

The 2008 ambush took place in the Khaz Oruzgan district, and while it was going on, two Dutch AH-64 helicopters passed by, escorting a CH-47 transport helicopter. All three choppers were at about 5,000 meters (16,000 feet), an altitude considered safe from any ground fire. The Dutch troops, like most NATO forces (with the notable exception of U.S., British and Canadian troops) were generally restricted, by their governments, from getting involved in combat. But in this case, the troops on the ground were quite insistent that they could really use some help. The ambushed forces, after several hours of fighting, lost one dead (an American soldier) and nine wounded (including seven Australian commandos, one of whom won a Victoria Cross, the equivalent of a U.S. Medal of Honor, for bravery).

Accounts of exactly what the Dutch did, or didn't do, vary. The book says the Dutch refused to drop below 5,000 meters, as their ROE (Rules of Engagement) prohibited this unless they had orders from their superiors to do so. Other accounts say the Dutch made two strafing runs with their 30mm cannon, and then refused to do any more. The Dutch were carrying Hellfire missiles in addition to their cannon.

The Dutch say they are investigating what went on, and it could be nothing more than a command screw-up. The Dutch are particularly sensitive about incidents like this, because in 1995, a battalion of Dutch peacekeepers in Srebrenica (Bosnia) refused to intervene and halt the massacre of over 8,000 civilians. The Dutch battalion was guarding over 25,000 Bosnian refugees when Serbian gunmen showed up and cowed the Dutch troops into inaction. Survivors of the massacre later sued the UN and the Netherlands for failing to do their duty. The UN claims immunity for itself and its Dutch peacekeepers. But the matter is still in court. In 2006, the Dutch government awarded medals to the Dutch soldiers at Srebrenica, for doing what they could under difficult circumstances.


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